Saturday night in Ujjain and we had a decision to make—to catch the lighting of the two giant lamps at the Harasiddhi Temple, or to linger back at Ujjain’s ghats for the late-evening arti on the banks of the holy Kshipra river. The clouds darkened, as if to set the mood for the staging of Kalidasa’s Meghdoot. The weather had made our decision. We hurried across the pontoon bridge from Dattatreya Akhada towards Ram Ghat. The dark skies opened up, to flood the streets of Ujjain with a torrential downpour. Young priests scurried to retrieve the brass utensils and puja paraphernalia from the Arti Dwar (arched gate), which were ferried to a large pillared pavilion nearby where we all huddled for cover. The modalities were being worked out and soon a priest rearranged the crowd to make way for the lamp bearers. And lo and behold, to the rhythm of the rain, the clang of cymbals, and the crash of drums the Kshipra arti began.

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Abhinandita Mathur
Priests discuss where to shift the puja after a sudden squall disrupts the traditional evening ritual.
Priests discuss where to shift the puja after a sudden squall disrupts the traditional evening ritual.
Abhinandita Mathur
Priests hurriedly shift vessels, out of the downpour, from the banks to the covered pavilion.
Priests hurriedly shift vessels, out of the downpour, from the banks to the covered pavilion.


Abhinandita Mathur
Kshipra arti is marked by rituals to worship the river.
Kshipra arti is marked by rituals to worship the river.
Abhinandita Mathur
A priest ceremoniously rings the bell, as other devotees beat drums, cymbals, and chant prayers.
A priest ceremoniously rings the bell, as other devotees beat drums, cymbals, and chant prayers.
Abhinandita Mathur
Priests and devotees alike raise their hands, hailing the sacred river.
Priests and devotees alike raise their hands, hailing the sacred river.
Rain doesn’t dampen the enthusiasm and fervour of the priests performing the Kshipra arti.
Rain doesn’t dampen the enthusiasm and fervour of the priests performing the Kshipra arti.
A row of priests swing flaming oil lamps in synchrony in reverence to the river.
A row of priests swing flaming oil lamps in synchrony in reverence to the river.
Abhinandita Mathur
A priest waves the sacred fire from the lamp as an offering to the river deity.
A priest waves the sacred fire from the lamp as an offering to the river deity.